Press Box: Washington Nationals

Armed For The Big Time – Washington Nationals’ Top Prospect Starts 2016 Season in Harrisburg

Scouts and pundits love comparisons. They have been making them seemingly forever in baseball.

Managers and coaches? Not so much. They tend to loathe them – not the scouts and pundits, just the comparisons they like to make of one ballplayer to another.

While some have compared Lucas Giolito’s blistering fastball to the one thrown by Stephen Strasburg or his potential to become another Roy Halladay, the guys doing the evaluating on the field – the managers and coaches – prefer to think of Giolito being, well, the first Lucas Giolito.

And that means having a chance to be good, scary good.

So good, in fact, the Washington Nationals’ top prospect assigned to start the 2016 season at Class AA Harrisburg may not be around long enough for you to read about him.

Giolito is one of those special talents. He owns a fastball that approaches 100 mph, as well as a nasty curveball, cruel slider and all of the hype that goes with being rated the best right-handed pitching prospect in the game.

He was assigned to Harrisburg, in part, because he is only 21 years old and needs to develop consistency to go along with his already extraordinary tools. He was sent to City Island, too, because the Nationals’ pitching rotation in the major leagues is stacked with onetime Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, maybe-in-the-future Cy Young winner Stephen Strasburg, left-hander Gio Gonzalez and a pair of former Senators in Joe Ross and Tanner Roark. The Nationals’ staff at Class AAA Syracuse also is loaded with experienced pitchers hanging out just in case someone gets hurt in Washington.

Giolito’s time, though, may be coming soon. Harrisburg and the Class AA Eastern League should be only mere stepping stones on his way to, who knows, maybe a Wheaties box.

“He’s knocking on the door now,” said Senators Manager Matt LeCroy, who at some point this season is expected to call Giolito into his office to tell him to pack either for Triple-A or the majors.

“Right now,” said Senators Pitching Coach Chris Michalak, “it’s just a matter of polishing some things off and getting him into some big-league habits.”

The thoughts of LeCroy and Michalak really are no different than those of the scouts, front-office executives, media pundits and basement bloggers.

“I see all that stuff,” Giolito said, referring to a personal Twitter account that routinely explodes with others’ lofty opinions of him.

“I see where they put me in the rankings, all of it, but when it comes down to it, I’m not a major-league player. I don’t have any time in the big leagues. I haven’t proven anything in my career yet. People can say all of that stuff, but I have to prove it.”

Giolito proved to himself early on – in middle school, actually – that he did not want to follow in the family business: acting. His mother is Lindsay Frost from the soap As the World Turns. His grandfather, Warren Frost, is the character actor who played Mr. Ross, George Costanza’s would-be, father-in-law in Seinfeld. His uncles, Mark and Scott Frost, are Hollywood screenwriters; his father, Rick Giolito, an actor and producer.

As for Lucas Giolito, he said he maxed out as a stage performer during a Shakespearian sonnet before his eighth-grade classmates, finding that to be more nerve-wracking than pitching in front of thousands.

Besides, at 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, he may be too big for the screen.

“Yeah, unless I want to be the next Vince Vaughn,” Giolito said with a smile.

“We entertain; they entertain. It’s not too different,” Giolito said, making his own comparisons of his career to those in his family. “My mother has talked to me about getting nervous, feeling anxiety about performing. I’ve learned a lot from her in that aspect.”

No greater lesson has been learned by Giolito than patience, starting four years ago as a high-school senior with an arm injury that eventually led to Tommy John Surgery. The injury dropped Giolito from being a potential No. 1 pick in baseball’s 2012 amateur draft to the 16th selection overall. Moving down 15 slots saw a signing bonus of perhaps $5 million sliced to $2.9 million.

He watched from home in Los Angeles on draft day as Carlos Correa, Byron Buxton, Kevin Gausman and Andrew Heaney were picked in the top 10. All four had reached the majors before the middle of last season, the same time Giolito was preparing to make his first start in Double-A.

The closest Giolito has been to the majors, at least so far, was spending this past March in big-league spring training with the Nationals. He pitched well there, even though the Nationals were predetermined to assign him to Harrisburg.

“When I got sent down, I understood,” Giolito said. “They had to get the (major league) team ready to go. At the same time, I want to get back there. I definitely have a lot to work on, and that’s why I’m here, but I want to get back there…and stay.”